Disability discrimination complaint dismissed upon showing that no reasonable accommodation was available
Whitfield v New York State Div. of Human Rights, 2016 NY Slip Op 02535, Appellate Division, First Department
The New York State Division of Human Rights (DHR), adopting the recommended order of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ), dismissed the disability discrimination complaint Wade Whitfield filed against the New York City Department of Education (DOE). Whitfield appealed.
In considering Whitfield’s appeal of DHR’s determination the Appellate Division said that substantial evidence supported DHR's determination that Whitfield did not suffer from a disability for purposes of his claim under the New York State Human Rights Law. The decision indicates that:
1. Whitfield had been employed as a paraprofessional by DOE. His duties involved his lifting students weighing more that 40 pounds.
2. An orthopedist who examined Whitfield had opined that the most he could lift was 40 pounds.
3. At his hearing DHR hearing Whitfield testified that most students in the school district where he was employed weighed more than 40 pounds.
4. DOE witnesses at the DHR hearing had testified testified that, due to the fact that all students in District 75 were disabled, there were no District 75 paraprofessional positions that did not require the incumbent to have the ability to lift more than 40 pounds.
The ALJ credited this testimony and the Appellate Division said that those factual determinations are entitled to "substantial deference." In addition, the court said that given Whitfield's “medically prescribed weight limitations,” DHR properly determined that there was no "reasonable accommodation that would have enabled [Whitfield] to perform the essential functions of his … position."
The court, dismissing Whitfield’s appeal, noted that the record showed that DOE did attempt to accommodate Whitfield by encouraging him to apply for an extension of his leave of absence from his position as  his medical limitations would have qualified him for an extended leave of absence, and  his application would have been approved had he applied.
The Appellate Division observed that Whitfield “inexplicably refused to apply for an extended leave of absence, however, despite being repeatedly urged to do so by the principal and other DOE representatives.”
Whitfield had also filed disability discrimination claims pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Appellate Division dismissed this branch of Whitfield’s appeal as well, explaining ADAclaims are governed by the same legal standards' as disability discrimination claims under the State HRL."
The decision is posted on the Internet at: